Action Thriller 4: Time-lapse process

I recently completed work on a CD cover for my friends over at Imagem Production Music for the 4th installment of their Action Thriller series. In short, stock movie trailer music for action films. Awesome. So they had me come up with a concept for the cover and go to town. I had this image of a leather-clad biker in my head for a little while and this seemed like a suitable stage for the guy.

Just before I started the labour of creating elements in Illustrator, I turned on the screen recorder in hopes that I’d have enough footage to create a time-lapse video of the process. It worked, and stands at a full 12:43.

You can see my entire 6-hour stint creating the cover you see above, from concept to final as I flew around Illustrator and Photoshop building the image from scratch. I didn’t cut anything out of here, this video is complete with screw-ups, experiments, good ideas, bad ideas, menus, buttons, layers, stock photos and the occasional iTunes appearance. All of the little decisions I made along the way. Nothing to hide, here. All secrets revealed. What you see is what I saw.

I’m a big advocate of helping people out, so I hope this video does just that. These things take time, some planning and a LOT of messing around along the way. I’m constantly telling people to have fun with what they do, and I hope this video is a testament that I’m still working under that mantra. If it looks like chaos … well, it is. The good kind.

Sidenote: this is the second piece I’ve done that features this leather-clad biker character, the first being my fake Signalnoise movie poster back in December. He’s my own 1980s indy action film character, perhaps a pseudo-Signalnoise mascot. You’ll see more of him in the future.


  1. David

    Very nice!

  2. This is like the most exciting thing to happen in a long while. I’ve been thrilled since I first saw your tweet about it. Thanks so much for sharing this, James. This is hands down a great helper. Now excuse me, I’m going to make myself a cup of coffee and spend some quality time with your time-lapse. :)

  3. Man, thanks for sharing!!!!!!!!
    Good Workflow! And you are such a fast fucker HAHA
    The IV font always reminds me of “They Live” ;-)

    Cheers buddy

  4. Cool to see how you use the radial gradient. I can handle it but generally I´d say it´s a tough thing to colourize a detailed object with gradients in Illustrator. What do you say?


  5. James that was great, really helped me a great deal seeing your explored ideas that changed throughout the process. Seriously, was very very helpful

  6. Stevo (backofurface)

    Awesome job man, it was really cool to watch a project start to finish. Kinda following along your process of building up and adding little detail & tweeks. Seeing the concept come to life was super cool. Loving the soundtrack too. Really looking forward to more of this kind of stuff down the road. Thanks for sharing, great way to start my monday.

  7. This was really great. Clients should see this as well, it may give them a better appreciation for the time that good designers put into their work.

    Awesome video. Thanks again James

  8. Great time-lapse video, and awesome album cover design!

  9. Hey James!

    It’s so interesting to see your work process!
    And especially the “try and error”… meaning you are still human!
    Good work, buddy!

  10. that’s awesome and the video is a very good idea! i think a little more speed would make that thing more interessting!?
    i think the green dots near the neck have the wrong angle. also i miss a reflection on the windshield…
    but i can’t do that better…. especialy the background is great!

  11. amazing… ahm… awesome… ahm… i’m speachless… thanks for sharing, man!!!

  12. I thought this would take even longer. To me, 6 hours for that amount of work sounds insanely fast! Great work, I really enjoyed watching that video although I have next to no idea of what’s happening half the time.

  13. Absolutely epic, man. Thank you so much for putting in the extra time and effort to get the screencast video put together. I kept saying stuff like, “Huh!” “Oh, wow!” “Oh, right. That’s how he did it.” “Hey Bittbox concrete! Cool!” So yeah, man. It was very helpful.

    I had to laugh when I saw you try the skull idea then drop it. It’s just so great to see that other designers have the same working process as I do of trying stuff out, seeing that it doesn’t work, then going with a different idea. Thanks again!

  14. Very interesting to see your workflow in full. Thanks for sharing this very helpful video James! you rock!

  15. verpixelt

    rly rly awesome to see your workflow. There were so many good ideas and u picked the best xD i would love to see more time lapse videos of your future work <3

  16. Damn this is amazing James!

  17. Wow you say you do a lot a messing around, looks pretty efficient to me! Would like to see more detail on the Photoshop stuff, any chance of a breakdown broadcast?

  18. Ben den Hartog

    I like this video a lot!! Thanks for sharing this with us!!!

    My comment on Vimeo:

    WOW!! Great to see your process, also including the things you tried but didn’t make it in the final piece! You’ve got a great collection of stockphoto’s! And yeah the truckstop had to be in there :D Fantastic!!

  19. Helen

    Thanks for sharing! :)

  20. @Martin He did a couple of breakdowns in the past (Tron Poster and another one I don´t remember ;-)). Just check the SNBC Archive. If you can´t find anything ask James which episodes it were! Cheers

  21. Cameron


  22. Wow, that was impressive ! First time-lapse over 10 minutes that didn’t bored me at all

  23. That is super awesome James.

  24. this is so amazing… thankyou so much for sharing. It’s so inspiring to watch how other artists work… i was glued to the screen for the entire process i even ignored a phone call! haha. just awesome, definitely adding your blog to my regular reading list :)

  25. Phantom

    This was something epic!
    could someone tell me the soundtracks used??

  26. I only say one thig. Truckstop lens flare :D
    Awesome result.

  27. @Phantom It´s the TRON LEGACY Soundtrack by DAFT PUNK

  28. Phantom

    @dan yea i know but the last soundtrack was something new i think. could you name that? :s Thanks a lot for the reply :)

  29. This is some wicked awesome stuff James. I will be studying this over the weekend and maybe pick up some new tricks. Thanks for sharing

  30. This was really interesting and great. Thanks for sharing how you jam out on your computer!

    Must go make something… right…… now.

  31. Lora Wise

    I am very impressed with your work. I plan on watching your 6 hr video. What I would like to know is how long have you been using illustrator and photoshop. Im a student at Full Sail, and my degree is Graphic Designs. Im a sophomore and I really enjoy learning how to use illustrator and the rest. I was wondering if you have any good tips in using these softwares, and where did you go to school to learn how to use these.

  32. Great video James! Really awesome to see your design process.
    May I ask where you get your stock photos from? Looks like you got a whole buch of ’em ;)

  33. I see one mistake! The flares on the lights are cut. Look on the edges closest to the middle!

  34. james (Author)

    Kay, that’s the curve of the windshield you are seeing behind the flares. You can follow the edge all the way around.

  35. pepereckless

    breathtakingly epic, and totally rad to “see” you working James!
    did I catch a familiar band name there somewhere? :D

  36. Oh, i see now. It just looked bit unnatural to me.

  37. Anthony L

    Is that a font that you used for the “4” (Where it had “Reckless Love”) or is it created? If it is a font, would you be able to let me know which one it is? Thanks

  38. Nothing short of amazing! Thank you so much for sharing your process.

  39. James,
    I wanted to thank you for deciding to make this video. I love your work and try to pick it apart in order to figure out different ways of doing things. I’m not overly proficient in Illustrator, but I see now that Illustrator and Photoshop can work very well with each other. Now that I know just a little bit of your process I am eager to learn and use Illustrator even more.

    Thanks for the time-lapse!

  40. Jug

    you put the “ill” in illustrator. I had to watch some parts several times. Damn cool to watch 6hrs in 12min. Thx

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